Background: Sub-Saharan Africa is endemic for intestinal parasites and distinguished for the largest burden of HIV cases. Blastocystis sp. is one of the most common protists infecting humans but its role in human disease is still controversial. Aim of this study was to investigate the prevalence of Blastocystis sp. in HIV positive and negative adults in Ghana and its association with immune status and other risk factors.
Methods: 122 HIV positive outpatients and 70 HIV negative blood donors from the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, Ghana, were included in the present study. Demographic, clinical and laboratory data were collected and HIV positive patients distinguished for CD4+ T cell count <200 cells/μl (n = 54) and >200 cells/μl (n = 68). A Blastocystis's phylogenetic analysis was performed to determine sample subtype (ST).
Results: The prevalence of Blastocystis sp. in adult HIV positive individuals was lower than in HIV negative persons (6.6% vs. 20.0%, p = 0.008) and Blastocystis sp. ST1 was the most prevalent strain. Within HIV positive participants, the prevalence of Blastocystis sp. was lower in those individuals with CD4+ T cell count <200 cells/μl than in patients with higher CD4+ T cell count (1.9% vs. 10.3%, p = 0.076). Multiple regression analysis revealed that Blastocystis sp. was inversely associated with an obese Body Mass Index (BMI) in HIV negative persons (p = 0.040). Presence of Blastocystis sp. was correlated with higher CD4+ T cell count in HIV positive participants (p = 0.049).
Conclusion: It is largely reported that people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Africa are affected from parasite infections and that co-infections may adversely impact on their immune status, accelerating progress to AIDS and worsening gastrointestinal manifestations. Differently, in this study Blastocystis sp. was associated with a better immune status jointly with a healthy body weight while it seems to be reduced with the progression of HIV infection. This data agree with recent suggestions that Blastocystis sp. can represent a component of the healthy gut microbiota.